From Gratitude to Joy

“It is easy to be grateful for what you have in abundance and for what you like,” continued the lecturer.  “It is harder to be grateful for what is not yet perceived as having arrived or for what we may not find pleasant.”  I was watching a virtual presentation on the topic of the joy of gratitude.  That sentence remained forefront in my mind.   Most of us find it relatively easy to, if not feeling deep gratitude, at least say “thank you” for what we consider to be a benefit.  Giving thanks for what we perceive we do not actually possess, what has not yet manifested in material form, or for a difficult situation or event is more likely to be relegated to the category of complaint.

Most of us are seeking happiness, which happiness we believe will appear if we have a particular thing or if this, that, or the other situation occurs.  Sadly, the specific condition usually remains a will-o-the-wisp, or, once arrived, is swiftly followed by another condition to be met. The truth is that gratitude does not follow simply as a result of receiving what we think we want, or of our fleeting joy at getting our way; gratitude is actually the precursor of happiness.  Whether we are grateful for receiving what we want, or whether we are grateful for receiving what we do not find enjoyable or for what we are still anticipating, the happiness will not be there until the gratitude has arrived.  It is said that the happiest among us are the most grateful.

If we find ourselves not as facile as we wish at achieving a state of gratitude, despite frequent affirmations to that effect, perhaps it is because we are approaching the situation backwards.  Waiting on the manifestation of a particular condition for gratitude to appear brings us just that – more waiting, rather than the appearance of either the condition or the feeling of being grateful.  Perhaps if we were to develop the practice of being grateful for what we don’t seem to have or for what we don’t want or find appealing, we might find happiness even though our particular conditions do not appear.   Still more, our very embrace of gratitude for itself just might facilitate the manifestation of what we thought would never appear.

When the husband of one of my friends lost his job, it was to him as if his very identity had been snatched from him.  Fear and anger dominated his days – fear that he would not be able to provide for himself and family, fear that he would cease to exist as a valuable person, anger that he might need to be provided for by others.  Slowly, he began to open to the hidden benefits of being unemployed.  He began to appreciate the added time with his family, especially his children.  He began to enjoy being able to go for a walk in the wooded areas near his home.  He read more.  The disadvantages did not go away and were still difficult.  Yet, they were eased by his appreciation of what he had begun to enjoy.  The appreciation turned to gratitude, and he began to give thanks that his former job had disappeared, and for the benefits that loss had brought him.  Surprise – within a month of his embrace of gratitude for his difficult situation, he received a job offer that he had not expected.  

Even harder is the concept of being grateful for what has not been achieved or for what is not yet manifest.  The vision of what needs to be done, of what “has” to happen, or of what needs to come is massively powerful, and the nagging question remains of why the vision has been given if the opportunity has not accompanied it.  Inspirational speakers on gratitude, such as, for example, the late Wayne Dyer, explain how the position of believing that one already has that which one wishes, envisioning it and being grateful for it, brings that very vision into manifestation – if not exactly, then very closely.  The wisdom of the gratitude coming first is clear; when we complain about what we do not have we are actually in the process of affirming that lack.  Our words have power.  If we can see, hear, and feel that which we wish, and be grateful for it, we are emitting a positive creative energy, which can draw to us that which we wish.  (How quickly is not promised; patience is a virtue, too.)  At the very least, we can focus more attention on being grateful for what we have in front of us, instead of complaining about what is not before us.

Gratitude is a powerful change agent.  There is an even better reason, though, for practicing the feeling of gratitude.  Gratitude presupposes a feeling of satisfaction.  When one feels satisfied, there is no perception of lack.  One is satisfied with the conditions that are and with the physical good one has.  That does not mean that there are not goals for later, or that the present moment is static and that what is present in the moment is all there will ever be.  It simply means that satisfaction is now, and that with satisfaction comes content or joy and an openness or non-resistance to what is.   Gratitude practiced simply for itself, without the expectation that a desired change will indeed follow, is the underpinning of being happy.  It is a connection to the creative essence from which we all emerge and to which we all return.  It returns us to what we are, unsullied by the stories and desires we weave around us.  Gratitude is a form of love.

During these times when we are surrounded by so much that we feel we do not want, by difficulties that sometimes seem too much to bear, by fears of loss, lack and deprivation, let us find the things for which we can be grateful.   Let us practice gratitude for those, and through practice, gratitude for what is and for life in general.    Let us practice becoming genuinely happy.  

Peace, Diane

Celebrating Birthdays

Summer is a time for birthdays – at least it seems that way among those I know.  Summer is an energy-filled season, a vibrant time to remember and celebrate birthdays.  I do believe that remembering birthdays is important; a birthday is among the saddest times to be forgotten.  However, much as each of us needs to be remembered by those among whom we live, birthdays – remembered as well as forgotten ones – can be a difficult time for many.  It’s a matter of perspective.

For most of us, two modes of perception underlie birthday celebrations.  Some of us respond to both at once.  The most common practice for birthdays is counting.  The perennial thought behind the party is, “How old are you?”  Each year represents a different state of maturity.  Children are eager for their birthdays.  For children, birthdays mean a year older, a year closer to the freedom of adults, a year more of increased ability, and, of course, presents.  Once adulthood is achieved, birthdays represent a different prospect.  Each birthday represents another step forward towards diminished ability, diminished health, diminished financial well-being, diminished independence, and, in our culture, diminished respect.  Progress may be slow in that direction, but for most, the progress is inevitable.  The focus is on counting.  Even the language says that one IS that counted number.  These birthdays are bittersweet.

Another context from which to perceive birthdays pays no attention to counting.  Birthdays are to rejoice in the existence of the person being celebrated.  Birthdays are to acknowledge the uniqueness of the individual, and to recognize that he or she makes a large or small contribution to humanity and is valuable and valued.  From this viewpoint, the question, “How old are you?” is irrelevant.  A birthday celebrated with this attitude is a time of joy.

Some think that birthdays should be replaced with name days, the day on which an individual receives his or her name, or, in some religions, the day of baptism or reception into the religion.  Theoretically, this makes it more difficult to count.  In actuality, one can count as easily from a name day as from a birthday.  Name day or birthday, what matters is from what set of assumptions the day is observed.

Using counting to identify a person has an obvious fallacy.  Although each number purports to correlate to a specific level of maturity and set of skills, the fact is that no individual’s level of maturity is exactly the same as everyone else’s, young or old.  Children walk and talk at different ages; some people barely graduate from high school at 20, while others are ready for college at 14.  Some people remain emotionally boys and girls well into their 40s or beyond, while others are taking on extraordinary levels of responsibility in their teens.  Some people are in nursing homes in their seventies; others remain healthy and active into their 100th year.   The idea that because one IS a certain number (our language reinforces that idea) one is therefore described by the set of characteristics attributed to that number is ridiculous.  A number is simply a number; it is not the arbiter of one’s being.  In addition, there is a more subtle effect to counting.  Counting indicates that one is not good enough.  Children and young adults are not good enough because they are not yet full adults; adults are not good enough because the numbers indicate increasing deficiency.

How much better it is to simply celebrate each other!  How nurturing it is to remember each other at least once a year and shine attention upon each person’s unique existence!  This is a very special way to bring – as often as possible – a positive orientation of joy into our world.   It is simple but powerful way to support each other and contribute towards a kind and vibrant world.

Let us hold birthdays as a time of joy and remember always that each person comes bearing a gift to be recognized and celebrated.  Each of us is valuable and deserving of appreciation.  The ones who can find and acknowledge the sparks of value in others are the most powerful of all.

Peace, Diane